The Beginning of Video Games
Ralph Baer a television engineer is credited with being the first person to dream of video games in the form of interactive television during the early 1950’s. Later in his career during the mid 1960’s Baer had an opportunity to experiment more with his dream while he held the positions of Chief Engineer as well as manager of Equipment Design for a branch of Sanders Associates. Using this golden opportunity Baer developed the first video game which is known as Chase where the players would control two dots and would then chase one another around the screen. The next innovation in the field came about when Bill Harrison was brought aboard the project and assisted in the development of a “light gun” which one player would aim at a target that a second player would maneuver around the screen. The next development came with the addition of was added to the project team leading to the use of a third machine controlled dot allowing for a game similar to ping pong to be created. As the project continued to receive additional funding the number of games began to increase and Baer attempted to sell their new product prototype the “Brown Box” to cable companies with the intention of having the cable companies broadcast static background images which could be used with the games. At the time the cable companies were in no shape to provide the funding necessary for the product resulting in the original team continuing to progress their “Brown Box” hardware and game designs until the unit contained the “light gun” and 16 switches which were used to select which game the user desired to play. After the failed attempt to sell the project to the cable companies Baer brought the project to Television manufacturers resulting in Magnavox purchasing the game system in the late 1960’s. Magnavox made several modifications including the use of plug in circuits also known as cartridges and switching from the use of colored graphics to colored overlays in order to reduce the costs of producing the units for general sales resulting in the Magnavox Odyssey which was released during 1972.
Although early video game controllers were analog and the systems outputted analog signals due to the analog nature of televisions some of the video game consoles were indeed digital. Despite some consoles being digital systems early video game consoles did not contain microprocessors instead favoring codeless state machine circuits created using discrete logic circuits to control each aspect of the games. Besides the consoles many of the early video games were created by students who would program on their educational facilities computers in their free time. One example of such a game would be SpaceWar! which was created by Nolan Bushnell during 1970. After creating the game he attempted to create an arcade version of the game which could be played on a custom designed computer on a television however the resulting game known as Computer Space did not fair very well in the commercial video game market. Although Computer Space proved to be unsuccessful his experience creating the game eventually led him to fund Al Alcorn in creating an arcade version of the Magnavox Odyssey‘s ping pong game which became the world famous game Pong. Pong proved to be incredibly successful in the commercial market which led to imitators including the Coleco Telestar which also found great success in the video game market. Following the success of Pong many systems such as the Atari began to move the logic circuits which controlled the games onto chips rather than imbedding them inside the actual consoles.
- In the beginning: Ralph H. Baer and the birth of the game console (arstechnica.com)
- Magnavox Odyssey inventor Baer is certain of his own legacy (polygon.com)
- Magnavox Odyssey & Interton Video 2000 (chronogamelist.wordpress.com)
- Meet the man that started the video game console revolution (theverge.com)
- Blog #3 – A History of Electronic Games (s3787628foracm2012.wordpress.com)
- The “father of video games” not worried about his legacy. (gamersstandard.wordpress.com)
- The Evolution of Consoles (wysley.wordpress.com)
- How curiosity keeps Pong creator Al Alcorn on the innovation path (interview) (venturebeat.com)
- The Evolution of Gaming Consoles [infographic] (debugdesign.com)
- MoMA adds Magnavox Odyssey and six classics to game design exhibit (polygon.com)